By Asmaa Hussein from ruqayasbookshelf.com
It isn’t easy teaching kids the spirit of generosity when many of us live in hyper-individualistic societies. Everyone is out for him or herself, doing whatever is in his or her own best interests.
For all the articles and think pieces out there that outline how to teach kids generosity, most of them miss the most important part of all: kids don’t respond positively to being lectured about something. They have to be shown what it means.
This is the case for almost any other quality you want your children to develop; you can’t expect them to be kind, forgiving, or generous if you’ve shown them you are mean-spirited, vengeful, or miserly. Kids are mini-sponges that start off completely imitating what they see.
Here are some very simple ways you can show your kids what it means to be generous:
- Show them how other people live
It’s painful to pop the bubble of your child’s privileged existence, but it must be done. I do not advocate “poverty tourism,” but rather a healthy dose of insight into other people’s lived experiences.
Accomplishing this can take many forms. It can be as simple as watching documentaries about how others’ live, or it can be as involved as volunteering at soup kitchens and food banks. If you’re able to travel, take your kids and show them that many people all over the world don’t have as much as they do.
Seeing other people’s lives doesn’t automatically mean your kids will be generous – but it’s a start because at least they will understand that not everyone has access to as much as they do.
- Find the “least popular” thing to donate to
Every time you visit the masjid (especially with your child), give him or her a dollar or two to put into the masjid donation box. I don’t mean the “sadaqah” or “zakat” box, I mean money to fund the actual running of the mosque.
We use these spaces, sometimes without ever thinking of what it takes to run a masjid – the massive electricity/hydro bills, the manpower, cleaning staff, property taxes, etc. We use the space, and then we leave it without much thought.
Is it the most “glamorous” donation? No, it’s not.
But there’s blessing in doing deeds that everyone else forgets; praying while others are asleep, fasting while others are eating, remembering God while everyone else forgets, helping someone while others turn a blind eye…Just as there is good in all of these things, there is also good in giving while others are withholding.
For many of us, it’s a negligible amount of money. But it will teach our children to value their mosques, and to give to places that no one is really paying attention to.
- Make extra food to give away
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “When you make broth, add more water and give some to your neighbour.”
Have your kids pour that extra water or rice or veggies into the dish you’re cooking, and make sure to set it aside for the neighbours. Then, send your children to the neighbour’s door so they can see the kind of joy that their generosity brings to people.
God created us with an inherent inner joy that’s activated when we see how others are positively affected by our generosity. So help your kids experience that as much as possible.
- Get a gift, give a gift
We shower our children with gifts (especially during Ramadan and the two Eids). Whenever we are giving them a gift, let them simultaneously give a gift to a child in need.
Take your kids to the toy store to pick out a toy or book for another child. Let them wrap those gifts and either give them personally, or drop them off at a collection centre.
Gift-giving is a beautiful tradition in Islam, and it is made even more beautiful when you are in a constant state of gift-giving to those in need.
- Always involve them
The common denominator in all of the above points is that your child is the one doing the giving. She’s putting that coin or bill into the donation box. He’s knocking on the neighbours’ doors to give them a plate of food. She’s wrapping a gift to give to someone in need.
Make generosity an every day habit so you never need to lecture about it, because you actually live it.